You don’t hear much about sin from the pulpit anymore. Recognizing and identifying it; wrestling with the guilt of it; repenting of it, or for that matter, dealing with it at all—those ideas are passé in most churches today.
What you will hear is a lot of talk about brokenness and negativity, as if Christ humbled Himself to the point of death to cure depression and fix bad attitudes. The modern church has largely done away with the biblical language of sin and salvation, replacing it with gooey postmodern verbiage that appeals to a generation raised on psychobabble and self-help seminars.
One popular preacher—and in this case, I use that term very loosely—recently devoted his Easter Sunday service to a rambling, confusing analogy of Christ as a breath mint. He actually had the audacity to compare the offenses of sin to bad breath, and cast Christ as the Agent who masks its affects.
That kind of pseudo-spiritual garbage passes in some circles as a gospel presentation. And even in churches that don’t stoop to that ridiculously low level, you still won’t hear much talk involving the biblical language of sin, guilt, and repentance.
Sadly, this is not a new trend. John MacArthur pointed out the shift away from biblical discussions of sin and salvation over twenty years ago. In The Vanishing Conscience, he warned about the dangers of softening our view of sin.
That kind of thinking has all but driven words like sin, repentance, contrition, atonement, restitution, and redemption out of public discourse. If no one is supposed to feel guilty, how could anyone be a sinner? Modern culture has the answer: people are victims. Victims are not responsible for what they do; they are casualties of what happens to them. So every human failing must be described in terms of how the perpetrator has been victimized. We are all supposed to be “sensitive” and “compassionate” enough to see that the very behaviors we used to label “sin” are actually evidence of victimization.
Victimization has gained so much influence that as far as society is concerned, there is practically no such thing as sin anymore. Anyone can escape responsibility for his or her wrongdoing simply by claiming the status of a victim. It has radically changed the way our society looks at human behavior.John MacArthur, The Vanishing Conscience (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), 21.
Today even the most violent outbursts have built-in excuses. In the last month alone we’ve watched the media excuse widespread violence as mobs looted grocery stores, burned down pharmacies, and attacked police officers. Others look for ways to explain away terrorism—environmental issues like climate change are most recently to blame. Personal responsibility and accountability are easily sidestepped as sinners routinely lay the blame for their wrongdoing at someone else’s feet.
And even when there is no one else to blame, we’ve become adept at avoiding guilt. Again from The Vanishing Conscience:
These days everything wrong with humanity is likely to be explained as an illness. What we used to call sin is more easily diagnosed as a whole array of disabilities. All kinds of immorality and evil conduct are now identified as symptoms of this or that psychological illness. Criminal behavior, various perverse passions, and every imaginable addiction have all been made excusable by the crusade to label them medical afflictions. Even commonplace problems, such as emotional weakness, depression, and anxiety are also almost universally defined as quasi medical, rather than spiritual, afflictions. . . .
But assume for the moment that the problem is sin rather than sickness. The only true remedy involves humble repentance, confession, restitution, forgiveness, and growth through the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, communion with God, fellowship with other believers, and dependence on Christ. In other words, if the problem is in fact spiritual, labeling it a clinical issue will only exacerbate the problem and will offer no real deliverance from the sin. That is precisely what we see happening everywhere.
The sad truth is that disease model treatment is counterproductive. By casting the sinner in the role of a victim, it ignores or minimizes the personal guilt inherent in the misbehavior. “I am sick” is much easier to say than, “I have sinned.” But it doesn't deal with the fact that one’s transgression is a serious offense against a holy, omniscient, omnipotent God. . . .
One might think that victimism and disease model therapy are so obviously contrary to biblical truth that Bible-believing Christians would rise up en masse and expose the error of such thinking. But tragically, that has not been the case. Victimism has become almost as influential within the evangelical church as it is in the unbelieving world, thanks to self-esteem theology and the church’s fascination with worldly psychology.
These days, when sinners seek help from churches and other Christian agencies, they are likely to be told that their problem is some emotional disorder or psychological syndrome. They might be encouraged to forgive themselves and told they ought to have more self-love and self-esteem. They are not as likely to hear that they must repent and humbly seek God's forgiveness in Christ. The Vanishing Conscience pp. 24-29.
The spiritual fallout of such a departure from biblical truth is deadly for the church.
This is a serious matter. Whether you deny sin overtly and openly and totally, or covertly and by implication, any tampering with the biblical concept of sin makes chaos of the Christian faith. . . .
Disavowing our personal culpability can never free us from a sense of guilt. On the contrary, those who refuse to acknowledge their sinfulness actually place themselves in bondage to their own guilt. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13, KJV). “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners! Jesus specifically said He had not come to save those who want to exonerate themselves (Mark 2:17). Where there is no recognition of sin and guilt, when the conscience has been abused into silence, there can be no salvation, no sanctification, and therefore no real emancipation from sin’s ruthless power. The Vanishing Conscience pp. 31-34.
The church must take sin seriously. Failing to do so runs the risk of inoculating generations to the transforming truth of God’s Word. Put simply, if there is no such thing as sin, there is no need for a Savior.
In the days to come, we’re going to examine what God’s Word says about the nature of sin, the totality of man’s corruption, God’s cure for its devastating effects, how believers ought to deal with sin, and why we’re called to strive for righteousness. It will be convicting and encouraging as we disavow and debunk the world’s perspective, and strive to see sin the way God sees it.